> High-altitude expedition on Kuh-e-Damavand in Iran during late August <
Without a doubt, Iran offers the best high-altitude trekking and mountain climbing in the Middle East. The country is very mountainous with two major mountain ranges, the Alborz in the north and the Zagros in the southwest. There are 11 peaks in Iran, which are more than 4.500m high and over fifty +4.000m climbs. Some of the climbs are technically demanding, and during our travels in Iran is has never been difficult to find volcanic systems as well as mountainous massifs.
Mount Damavand is at 5.671m Iran’s highest summit. It is a dormant, perfect-cone volcano with a narrow summit and intact crater, situated dramatically in the Alborz range, thus surrounded on every side by high peaks and ridges. It is the roof of the Middle East and the highest peak between the Alps in Europe and the Tien Shan and Hindukush-Himalaya regions in East Asia. Furthermore, Damavand ranks as the highest volcano in Asia, and the third highest of the Volcanic Seven Summits.
We arranged a hike up the mountain together with a local mountaineering club in Teheran. After spending some time together with the local, Iranian mountain freaks, all of the very happy to welcome us, we drove to the foot of the mountain and started the hike. The trek takes two-three-four challenging days depending on shape.
Also see our 'Persia' page covering a journey across classical Iran, our 'Hippy Trail' page covering more remote parts of Iran, our 'Kurdistan' page for the Kurdish provinces inside Iran bordering Iraq, and our 'Persian Gulf' site which is about an island hopping adventure in that part of the country
The only way to reach Damavand is via Haraz Road. Damavand is vsible from many kilometers away, though it is surrounded on every side by the peaks and ridges of the Albroz. Its superior height and singular outline compel attention. Many travelers say that its snowy-white cone is the most beautiful sight in Iran.
We are ready to embark on leg 1 that runs from Polour Village to Goosfand Sara (camp 2). In Polour Village we slept with the Mountaineering Club of Iran and planned the trek here. Access to the mountain is 50 USD per person.
Niels, Cristoffer & Jakob are all happy. As seasoned travelers in Iran we were so used to seeing gaunt, rugged precipice, jagged peaks and bare deserts, that the sight of Damavand and its sourroundings was a relief and surprise to the eye.
In the afternoon we approach Goosfand Sara. We took it very slow, since the big challenge here is the hight (+5700 in three days) and thus we need good acclimatization.
The Goosfand Sara Base Camp, also called the mosque, is the summer starting point of the south face. There is a small shelter, a mosque and a sheepfold in this campsite. We stayed inside the open shelter.
We slep inside the very dirty shelter on self inflating mats.
Next morning we embark on leg 2 from Goosfand Sara (3040m) to Bargah-e-Sevom (4200m)
All around are other peaks of the Alborz range, sweeping down in the north to the humid Caspian plain and in the south descending to the deserts of central Iran. The full range is more than 2000 km. long from North-West to North-East of Iran.
We spent the night here while preparing for an early start next morning towards the summit
There are two safe havens and some tenting and camping places on this campsite. Of course we were invited for tea by fellow mountaineers.
The start of the climb has a moderate slope which gets gradually steeper the whole way up. Because of its great height and isolation, the view from Damavand is very extensive; a vast panorama of mountains, valley and desert.
Loose stone and small ribs of rock have to be traversed, but even in the summer, expanses of snow must be tackled
After a moderate slope it gets gradually steeper. The high altitude and lack of Oxygen makes climbing rather tough.
There is no permanent glacier because the climate is too dry, but we tackled many patches of hardened perennial snow (névés). During the summer, the terrain for most of the mountain is loose scree. The final 500m will consist of snow and ice/slush. Plastic boots are not necessary. Crampons are optional, depending on the weather.
The most difficult part of the climb is about 300m. under the peak. This part is called Doud Kouh (Smoke Mountain) or Sulphuric Hill, steaming sulphuric gas out of the holes. Its bad smell makes breathing difficult. After passing this part, there is no more slope to climb, only a huge ditch waits ahead. This is the main Damavand volcanic mouth located on top of the summit.
Climbing from camp 3 to the peak takes 6 to 9 hours (depending on shape) and the return to the shelter about 3 to 4 hours. Because of the sulphuric plumes on top, one can only remain on the summit for 10-20 minutes before your eyes start burning.
The weather was fine and thus we could see the green jungle of the north of Iran, the Caspian sea, the city of Tehran, the lake of Lar and at very far sight on the south the vast plain of Varamin. The summit crater itself was about 150 m wide and 20 m deep, and contained a 40-m-diameter frozen lake in the bottom.
One of the more steep parts. View to beautiful lake Lar
The late afternoon sun coloured the Alborz in shades of red, brown and purple
We went all the way down to Polour village the next morning